Asian boy wearing headphones and white shirt smiling and playing a game on smart phone.

Gaming Addiction Among Teens – A Growing Problem

Gaming is a common and mostly harmless activity teenagers engage in. But what happens when a teen’s entire life starts to revolve around gaming? What happens if they start to prioritise gaming over other important things like school, personal relationships, and hygiene? What occurs at this stage is not only unusual but also extremely harmful.

Usually, we hear the word “addiction” in relation to alcohol, drugs or gambling. Who could have thought that something as harmless looking as gaming can be addictive too?

It is understandably difficult to discern someone who is an avid gamer from someone who is addicted to gaming. Therefore, let us talk about what exactly gaming addiction is.

Internet gaming addiction is an uncontrollable need to play video/internet games, to an extent that it leads to problems in other areas of the person’s life.

Symptoms & Signs of Gaming Addiction:

  • Spending all their free time gaming, and sometimes most of their time gaming. If the teen is spending 6+ hours gaming, it is a warning sign.
  • When they’re not gaming, they are constantly thinking about getting back to the game.
  • Feeling restless and irritable when not gaming.
  • Lying to friends/family about how much time they spend gaming.
  • Due to their gaming, their school work, social life, and family life is getting neglected.
  • Headaches and eye strain due to intense gaming.
  • Hand pains or soreness due to constant use of gaming controllers.
  • Neglecting their own needs such as personal hygiene, skipping meals, not sleeping so that they can game.
  • Feelings of depression when unable to play games.
  • Gaming becomes the only thing that makes them feel good. They cope with life’s stress only through gaming.

If a teenager exhibits 3 or more symptoms from the above list, they are extremely likely to have a gaming addiction.

As we noted above, not everyone who plays video games is going to develop a video gaming addiction. If done in moderation, gaming can be a fun and productive activity. But then, what causes a person to become addicted to gaming? As of now, there are no specific causes to it. However, there are certain risk factors that make some people more likely to get addicted to gaming.

Risk factors of Video Game Addiction:

  • Loneliness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness or being neglected
  • Social anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Strict parents
  • Being bullied by peers

Apart from these risk factors, another reason for such a rise in gaming addiction can be the growth in technology and the nature of video games. These games have daily missions and challenges and are designed to be not too easy and not too hard so that it feels just a tad out of reach to the person playing them. This leads them to feel compelled to face those challenges. When they succeed or complete a mission, it causes their brains to release dopamine, the feel-good chemical. When they win, again and again, large doses of dopamine are released, which is highly addicting. Slowly, the person gets immune to the feeling of dopamine, but because they keep wanting to feel it, they continue playing the games in hopes of feeling exactly as good as they felt the first time. This is how any addiction starts, be it alcohol or gaming.

Stages of gaming addiction:

1. Exposure: The first stage is all about a person getting exposed to video games and finding them enjoyable. Every player starts at this stage, but most of them stay here as avid gamers. It is only worrying if they move past the first stage and start seeing gaming as something more than a hobby.

2. Growing interest: The second stage brings the player deeper into gaming. Playing games tends to become an important part of their life. They may even choose to prioritise gaming over other activities they used to enjoy. They may also invest more time, energy, and money in games.

3. Increased obsession: The third stage is very risky as it leads the player to play games in all of their free time. Most of their thoughts are directed towards gaming. They start neglecting their relationships and ignore their school work and other responsibilities.

4. Addiction: At the last stage, gaming becomes their sole interest and all their time and energy gets invested in it. They feel irritable or uneasy if they are not gaming, don’t take care of their personal hygiene, and even start skipping meals and naps. They are now entirely detached from the outside world and fully cope with life with the help of gaming.

Effects of gaming addiction:

1. On personal relationships: Gaming addiction directly leads a person to isolate themselves from their friends and family. This costs them many important personal relationships and leads to more isolation in the long term.

2. On school & work: As they tend to put all their time and energy into mobile gaming, their school life and work-life greatly suffers. They can lose their job or fail in exams. Repeated spending on games can also lead to financial issues.

3. On physical health: Playing games all the time leads to several issues with their health. They may gain weight and have sore muscles, they are more likely to develop migraines and seizures, and their eyesight can suffer. Skipping meals for several hours can also lead to fatigue, nausea, anaemia etc. Skipping sleep can lead to having a bad sleep cycle, or sleep disorders like insomnia. Moreover, long hours of screen-time can significantly reduce the production of melatonin in the body, which can affect the sleep cycle.

4. On mental health: There is a significant link between depression and gaming addiction among youngsters, as it can both cause addiction and can be a negative consequence of it. Anxiety and rage issues are also fairly common with addictive gamers.

Plus, isolation and poor personal hygiene can lead to low self-worth. Addictive gamers are also more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Compulsive gaming has been linked with physically aggressive behaviour, both to themselves and to other people.

How to overcome gaming addiction:

1. Learn moderation: Just like any other addiction, if you stop gaming altogether, it can cause you to have withdrawal symptoms. So, it is best to not suddenly stop gaming altogether. Instead, limit your gaming by setting a timetable. Take out 1 or 2 hours a day for gaming, and spend the rest of the time doing other productive activities.

2. Avoid games you particularly find addictive: There are some games that are more addictive than others, like MMOs. If you think you can get stuck playing these games for hours, avoid them. Play games you enjoy but don’t get trapped in.

3. Limit your spending: Once you stop spending much on games, you won’t have many games to play. That will automatically control your addiction.

4. Play outdoor games: One of the best ways to control your video gaming addiction is to play outdoor games. That will help you with physical activity and take your mind off of video games. Outdoor games are challenging too, but they are also limited as you can only play them for a few hours.

5. Ask for help from friends/family: You can also ask your close friends and family to check up on you. They can check if you are limiting your time and can remind you to take frequent breaks. They can also sometimes play with you so that you know when to stop. Having people around while gaming can be a good way to not isolate yourself while also limiting the addiction.

6. Get professional help: The best way is to seek professional help. A therapist can help you with your addiction in many ways, like by assisting you in understanding the reason behind your addiction i.e., why did you choose to cope with life through gaming? There can be many factors at play here, including avoidance of difficult feelings, depression, chronic stress etc.

ThatMate is a mental wellness app that has powerful content on several mental wellness issues like anger, anxiety, addictions etc. It helps in educating teenagers and teaching them how to deal with the same. You will find the information helpful in dealing with gaming addiction.

People who are addicted to video gaming know how damaging it can be to an individual. It can ruin their self-esteem and their sense of control over their own life. The good news is that the addiction is treatable, even if the road to recovery is full of hardships. The bad news is — most people don’t consider gaming addiction as real.

Even though internet gaming disorder is not an official diagnosis yet, it is still very real and detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health. As individuals, it is our responsibility to learn about the difficulties of people with gaming addiction and see to it that they receive the required help. As always, the first and foremost step is to recognize the problem as real. Only then will we be able to solve it.

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